John’s working assignment for the next three months is at a twenty-eight bed facility in the town of Kaitaia (ki-ti-uh, with long i sound). The name means ample food in Maori, and the town is considered the “gateway to the north” as it sits at the beginning of the Aupouri Peninsula, the north part of the North Island. Population: approximately 5000 souls.

Kaitaia was the last major settlement on State Highway 1 going north, and a destination in the 1800s for missionaries hoping to convert the local Maori to Christianity. The town is not a high destination point today for most New Zealand visitors, although tourism is considered one of its major industries. One website referred to it “as the place dreams go to die”. That’s rather harsh, and not completely accurate. After all, the town has a 24-hour McDonald’s, a KFC, and a really good Indian Spice Restaurant for carry-out. And a Warehouse Store, which is like a giant Dollar Store on steroids.

We are not living in Kaitaia, however, but in Ahipara, a small coastal town 15 minutes from the hospital. Surf fishing and long board surfing are popular in the area, and tour buses come around for Shipwreck Bay. Ahipara is the beginning of 90 Mile Beach, and 4-wheel drive vehicles are a common sight by the water.

In the morning I drive John to work in our loaner car. Usually by 7:30, the horses down the road are out in pasture, rolling around in the dirt. The road is wet from the nightly rain, and the sun, rising over the ridges, makes the pavement sparkle. The drive has a meditative feel to it, with large shade trees and pampas grass lining the way. Such a change from the congested traffic in Michigan.

I’m starting to get the hang of driving on the left, with the steering wheel on the right. Ingrained driving habits are hard to break though, so I am flipping on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal and occasionally driving in the right lane before remembering to go to the left. At the vegetable market today I promptly got into the left side of the car before I realized I was sitting in the passenger seat. I got back out of the car and ambled to the driver side. The market staff no doubt keeps count of the confused Americans parking in their lot.

Winter is ending in New Zealand. While the days are gradually getting longer, the sun sets around 6:30 p.m. Yesterday, after John was done with work, we hurried home to take a walk on the beach before the sun was completely gone. The beach is across the road from our house and an easy scramble over some rocks. Shortly into our walk, we discovered a young seal laying on the sand. He appeared to be dead. He was gone,though, on our return walk, with tracks to the water, so I’m glad we didn’t disturb him. In the distance we could hear our neighbors down the road calling in the horses from the field. Every place in the world seems to have its own bedtime ritual, and horses trotting off to bed fits New Zealand.

As we returned to the house, a copper-colored, Rottweiler-type dog befriended us, searching for his owner. Eventually, he ran down the beach to another evening walker. He clearly was lost. This morning I returned from taking John to work to find our new friend in the driveway. He followed me up to the house, tired and thirsty. I found a plastic bowl for water, and hurried back outside. He had disappeared. I called a few times, and was ready to give up when from around the corner, with a fresh kill of rabbit in his mouth, came “Copper”. He gave me a quick sideways glance, and pranced down the driveway to the road. Just doing his part to get rid of non-native species.

I’m sure he will be back- I have rabbits somewhere in my yard.

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